When Covid-19 has started spreading in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, schools were closed and we had to interrupt all in-person activities that were going on. It was tough for everyone involved in the project. Yet, we have decided to face the challenge as an opportunity to create online training and to make long-term plans for the project.
So, we have created an alternative pathway to keep the project in motion. We have started building a community on WhatsApp, with teachers, partners and volunteers intending to be a place to exchange information, facilitate online training and share content about science.
After a while, we’ve realized rather than having a smartphone the teacher would need to have internet access as well as computer skills. So, for the first weeks, we decided to provide internet data to all teachers that were already part of the project and slowly teaching them digital skills.
We designed online weekly encounters, from March to August, in which teachers would have a chance to come together online and learn from each other. These meetings have addressed topics from the classroom teaching methods and curriculum. The training began with Ghanaian teachers and then it was extended to all other SeedScience teachers – those who were willing to participate. In the end, we had four different African countries participating in our online tuition.
In the middle of the year, the teachers’ participation frequency, in online meetings, was reduced because the schools were fully reopening in Tanzania and partially reopening in Ghana. One by one, the teachers were coming back to the classroom, yet continuing to interact occasionally in the group.
Around October, the teachers were able to gather locally to make practical experiments in real time, which we could follow through social media platforms. Some of the experiments were about local school curriculum and context. All this was possible thanks to funding from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, as part of Youth Exchange Grant 2020.
SeedScience in-person activities have been slowly reinstated in Ghana in November, that allowed the training, which we had started in January, to be completed by two SeedScience local trainers, known as science seeders. In Tanzania, though, the situation was different. Teachers had to deal with a very heavy didactic load and most likely, they will be able to restore extracurricular SeedScience activities in January 2021.
The pandemic’s side effects were turned into a huge opportunity to connect with each other and to give the teachers a chance to develop their digital skills by keeping the online training and activities. As we were coming together as a community from different countries and backgrounds, to exchange experiences and knowledge, gradually we were feeling much more a part of the project and teacher roles.
Not every one of us was able to be present at every meeting because of lack of internet data, no access to a smartphone, no time or interest, but despite these barriers, over 30 teachers have contributed to the online discussions, and most importantly we have started seeing our project continuing on its own.